MILAN – Marissa Childers is a coffee professional from Atlanta, Georgia. She has worn a lot of different hats in coffee from being a barista, an educator, designer and more recently, a roaster and business owner. She’s currently working as a freelance designer while also running a small business called Tanbrown Coffee, part time.
She founded and now she’s managing the Instagram account Coffee Asians, an interesting look at a very complex community, who live coffee and work in the supply chain, each carrying their own cultural and cosmopolitan vision of the beverage.
Childers tells to our readers: “To me, coffee is connection”
“And a way people are able to relate to one another, to their roots, and to ideas bigger than themselves. I think coffee is a space that blends culture, craft, and social obligation and is a space where nostalgia and innovation meet. Coffee should be accessible to all and is an industry full of paradoxes, one being the fact that coffee is grown by black and brown hands, but is represented by predominantly white faces. There is always more work to be done to make the industry a more inclusive and equitable space, and a first step is showing up for the local community. ”
What is Coffee Asians and from what idea was it born?
“Coffee Asians was an instagram account that was a response to the Atlanta Spa Shootings of 2021. Personally, the feeling of going into a shop and having to work a full shift while being the only Asian person on my team was debilitating and I knew that other people must have felt the same way. I ended up hosting a check-in zoom call for Asian coffee professionals to chat and afterwards, was invited into a WhatsApp group that was a support group put together by Anita Tam, Chisum Ngai, and Sharon Fung.
We all connected, and shortly after, we talked about creating an account. Coffeeasians was an available handle, and the account was born. Over time, it grew to be a place where holidays, coffee styles, and coffee professionals were highlighted and as we enter 2023, we plan to make sure we are able to highlight more people, places, and coffee drink styles in order to show the expanse of what Asian Coffee can be. We now have a discord and an Instagram, but there was not really a large mission, just to organically make space for our community and show that we have a presence and we are not a monolith.
In early 2022, we hosted our first Asian Coffee Meet-up at the SCA Expo in Boston, and it was a moment that was held dearly to our hearts. To see, for the first time, a handful of us gathered, was a beautiful and tender sight that allowed many of us to feel refreshed and seen.”
What are the needs and ways of consuming coffee in the Asian community?
Childers makes a due premise: “I cannot speak for the entirety of the Asian coffee community. There are countless countries, cultures, and individuals that are included within the diaspora, so diluting the entirety of Asian coffee consumption into one style would be disingenuous and diminutive. Broadly speaking, if the global coffee industry could look at Asian coffee professionals and producing nations in a non-monolithic and multi-dimensional way, there could be change in how we treat Asian cultures and people within the coffee industry as a whole. The main takeaway here, is that there is a wide complexity in being Asian because it leads to conversations about hyphenated identities, colorism, culture, class, and a lot of topics that could veer into many different directions because Asian people and cultures are not only located in Asia, the continent.”
Even more so the new generations who now live far from their family origins, perhaps in the United States, how do they experience this drink?
“This question can refer to the previous answer: I don’t have the authority to talk about all Asian people and coffee styles because there is complexity and the diaspora looks different depending on where in the world communities are located.”
In the coffee sector, do you feel represented? In what way?
“These days, we see more and more Asian people in coffee celebrated on the international stage. A lot of champions and leaders of the industry are Asian, and we can also see a shift in conversation about the quality of Asian coffee and Asian coffee as a whole. I think the feeling of representation is really broad and I can only speak for myself on this front. To me, I am starting to feel more represented over time, but I am also aware of my privilege as a lighter skinned East Asian person. The way I navigate in this industry, non-Asian people generally associate the term “Asian” to people who hold similar cultural backgrounds and facial features as me.
I think there is a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure full representation of all Asian coffee groups and even broadening the conversation of what that even means. We need more specificity and less umbrella terms in order to reach more accurate representation for all.
So I think when I say we need more specificity and less umbrella terms, there is a lot of controversy in the “Asian” identity because it is a term that encompasses over 48 countries including those of the diaspora where people may hold multiple identities and cultures. When we talk in broad terms, it can hold a sense of unity while simultaneously erasing what makes each culture unique. I think representation is complex and involves communication and allowing people to share without assumption or preconceived biases. There are so many stories that can be told and our role in the coffee industry is to allow each person to have space to share their experiences.”
How is your presence changing and how will it change the face of consumption and this supply chain?
Childers concludes: “With the first COE cupping from Indonesia happening in 2021, COE from Thailand in 2022, specialty lots from Taiwan, Vietnamese Robusta being a large conversation point, and general development in processing over time, there should be shifts in how the world consumes coffee, and hopefully there will be a brighter light that is shone on Asian coffee and highlights on Asian producers. I don’t really know what to expect for the future, but with more collective conversation and openness to experiment in competition and in shops, there should be a bright future for Asian specialty coffee.”